Category Archives: culture

Theater groups in New Hartford

The performing arts in New Hartford have a long and proud history supported not only by the various professional artists who have called the town home, but an enthusiastic group of volunteer amateurs, the people without whom no community theater can survive.

The groups have been varied in name and usually seem to have no clearly defined start or end date.

Among them:

The Home Dramatic Club: circa 1900

The New Hartford Chorus: circa WWI through the mid 1920’s at least

The New Hartford Community Club: 1930’s, late 1940’s-1960?

The Village Players: circa WWII

The Pleasant Valley Players (Barkhamsted): circa 1966-1979

The Village Theatre Workshop: 1979-1995?

Other groups, such as the English literature club, the Women’s Club, various churches (in particular North Congregational), and schools sponsored various public concerts, plays, and recitals as well.

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New Hartford Community Club

The New Hartford Community Club was established in the 1930s. It operated out of the Community House, where the main New Hartford Post Office now stands, until a fire destroyed that building in 1946.  It is often thought that the Club ceased at that time; but it continued for some years on an intermittent standing.

In 1956, it presented Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, under the direction of Fenno Heath.  In 1957, it built the two tennis courts, which stand to this day, near the North Congregational Church.

In 1962, it presented ‘A Pops Concert’ by the Hartford Summer Symphony, under the direction of Skitch Henderson.  The program is, as all programs are, something of a cultural time capsule.  The graphics for the ads are clearly from the 1960’s.  Banks dominate as sponsors; followed closely by manufacturing, including the Hurley Company, Winsted Precision Ball, Sealtest, O&G, Guida’s dairy (the solely a Ct firm), and one Richard M. Geddes a purveyor of organs and pianos (whose ad helpfully notes that the piano used in the concert was a Yamaha 6’1″ Grand).  Insurance, law, and brokerage firms are a distant third in sponsorship.

Skitch Henderson was best known for his work as the musical conductor for the TONIGHT Show; also working on ‘Andy Hardy’, the ‘Wizard of Oz’, and ‘The World of Bob Hope’.

The performance included pieces by Bernstein (West Side Story), Tschaikovsky (waltz from Sleeping Beauty), excerpts from the ‘King and I’ by Rodgers, and arrangements of ‘Johnny Comes Marching Home’ and the ‘World according to Bob Hope’, both arranged by Skitch Henderson.

The performance took place at Camp Pioneer on West Hill, and it must have been an enjoyable evening indeed.

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Native American Lecture

We would like to thank Sheryl Robinson for her wonderful presentation on Native Americans in Connecticut this evening. The presentation was well attended by around fifty people.  Mrs. Robinson took us from the earliest neo-paleolithic evidence through to the Woodland tribes and the development of a trading culture along the North Atlantic coast, to the dark days of the 1600’s during which a combination of long-standing tribal rivalries, conflict with the overwhelming presence of the English settlers, and devastating plague completely destroyed Native American culture in the region.  Following this we looked at the earliest written evidence of Native Americans in New Hartford, found in early land deeds were Native Americans from the Tunxis tribe and the Hartford region bought land in New Hartford; we then turned to the eventual relocation of the same groups to Wisconsin and the creation of the Brothertown Village, a group of Connecticut and Rhode Island tribes: Narragansett, Pequot, Mohegan, Niantic, Tunxis, Wangunk,  and Montauk; which has since formed its own distinct culture.

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Pageantry at West Hill Pond

From a 1947 newspaper clipping comes this report of activities on West Hill Lake (or Pond) in the early twentieth century:

“Cottage dances, too, were often held, the orchestral instruments consisting of mandolin, harmonica, paper and combs, jews harps, and a ‘real tin kettle’ drum. Later on a small portable ‘pianner’ that could be taken by hand or boat from cottage to cottage was procured and the acme of perfection was reached in all things musical. Water pageants also were frequently held with gayly (sic) decorated boats moving silently and gracefully over the lake waters, with the improvised orchestra and double quartet of ‘mixed’ voices serenading various shore groups.”

The catch, of course, was that many of the people in these theatricals and musical performances were involved, some of them professionally, in the performing arts; so, despite the dubious orchestral instruments, the quality of both the music and the singing was probably quite good. Lit by bonfires and kerosene lamps in the cabins, these nights have a story-book sense, almost too strong to be real.

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The English Literature Club

For at least a few years during World War One, New Hartford had an English Literature Club. Although the name would suggest that they concentrated on literature; the programs indicate  the members interests were far more wide ranging.

“Australia: The Original Inhabitants”

“Knowing One’s Community”

“Electricity: Talking by Wire and Wireless”

Robert Louis Stevenson: Life and Works”

“Reading: the Suppression of Important News from “Changing America”

“Evolution of Home-Making and Home-Keeping”

and so forth, every week between October and April.

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Excerpt’s From ‘Home’

‘Home: A Novel’ was written by George Agnew Chamberlain and published by Century Company in 1914.  The book is centered on three houses on the top of ‘Red Hill’.  A summer guest in New Hartford for many years, Chamberlain modeled the houses (and borrowed a few people, though not the story line) on three houses on the top of Town Hill in New Hartford.

“For such a one Red Hill held locked a message, and the key to the lock was the message itself: “Turn your back on the paralleled rivers and railroads and plunge into the byways that lead to the eternal hills and you will find the world that was and still is.”

Let such a traveler but follow a lane that leads up through willow and elderberry, sassafras, laurel, wild cherry and twining clematis; a lane aligned with slender wood-maples, hickory and mountain-ash and flanked where it gains the open with scattered juniper and oak, and he will come out at last on the scenes of a country’s childhood.

At right angles to the lane, a broad way, cutting the length of the hill, and losing itself in a dip at each end toward the valleys and the new world. The broad way is shaded by one of two trees, the domed maple or the stately elm. At the summit of its rise stands an old church whose green shutters blend with caressing foliage of primeval trees…..

….Some of these clustered homes live the year round at full swing but the life of some is cut down in winter to a minimum only to spring up afresh in the summer like the new stalk from a treasured bulb. Of such was the little kingdom of Red Hill.”

The three houses on Town Hill have since been joined by many more; the elms are long gone; and there are no more summer homes on the hill. However, the elderberry and sassafras, the cherry, the oak all remain.  And at this time of year, as one drives up the hill, the clematis are white veils drifting down through the trees. Timeless? no. Yet, there is an age there, an age that all old New England town centers have, though the road flashes past across the top of the eternal hills.

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Musical Notations

Selections from a concert, date unknown (but definitely early twentieth century), by the New Hartford Village Band.  There were 45 pieces performed, almost all were short marches, dances, or waltzes.  The names are emphatically American/Northern European/Scottish/German/and what might be called ‘Imperial’.  It must have been quite the evening of dancing for the audience.  These performances were as much about giving the audience a chance to dance as they were about the actual music.

The dance may have taken place in several different locations.  The Community House, which is now the Post Office Lot, is a very likely location; this was used for a wide range of events: from dinners to dances, and the occasional relief effort following an emergency, and was in use until the building burned in the 1940’s. It is also possible that the Town Hall’s Meeting Hall, located on the third story and an elegant space spanning the entire story, was used.  This space gradually became filled in during the late twentieth century with offices.  However, following the 1998 expansion it was restored to its former splendor.  The other alternative, least likely, was the Star Theatre, which was primarily a movie theater, but may have had the space for the audience to dance.  The Star, located right against the Farmington River, was destroyed in a flood.

“Star Spangled Banner’

‘La Fayette’s March’

‘Colburn’s Quick March’

‘Saxon Waltz’

‘Auld Lang Syne’

‘Swiss Guard’s March’

‘Lord Hardwick’s March’

‘General Bolivar’s March’

‘New York March’

‘Old Hundred’

‘Home, Sweet Home’



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